Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
I did not grow up on a farm, but I grew up in the farm country of Upstate New York. Many summers were spent on my grandparents’ farm near Smyrna, NY. I did occasional work at the dairy farm of our next-door neighbor. Farmers and farming have a special place in my heart, because they played an important role in my formation.
Farmers and farming also play an important role in this week’s passage. Indeed, they provide the key to interpreting the passage.
But first, a little analysis of the text.
Technically, these two verses are part of the preceding section, dealing with the abuses of the rich. The “therefore” clearly links them.
Now he turns to God’s people with words of comfort, encouraging us to be patient. Of course this is not the first time that he has brought up the subject of patience. In chapter one we learn that patience is one of the qualities God is building into our lives through tribulation.
To understand what James means by patience here, I think we need to “go back to the farm”, so speak.
Waiting is believing in God’s timing.
So what exactly is he saying? Essentially, “work hard, and trust God for the results. James’ mention of the “early and latter rain” is instructive here. No matter how hard they work, farmers are ultimately dependent on God’s sovereign control of the rain.
This has real-world implications for modern believers. For those of us in the West who still enjoy a certain (rapidly diminishing) amount of liberty, AND for our brethren in places like China and the Arab world who daily confront real, physical persecution, it is important to remember that the times and seasons belong to God.
At least a panoramic knowledge of Church History is an essential component. James was writing to Christians in the Roman world who were being persecuted by the rich and powerful. Within three centuries the Roman world was largely Christian. In 1384 John Wycliffe was burned at the stake for his work translating Bibles into English. Earlier this year, King Charles promised in his coronation to “defend the Protestant Faith…” Meanwhile, as mentioned before, the Western Nations are rapidly abandoning the Christian heritage that has provided the center for their civilization for centuries. The result is not apt to be pretty.
On the other side of the planet, however, the fastest growing church in the world is found in Communist China, which has to be driving the Communist officials absolutely bonkers. If Christ were to tarry for another two centuries, people may just refer to the “Christian East” and the “pagan West”.
All of that to bring us back to James’ point: Believers must be faithful in whatever situation they find themselves, trusting a Sovereign God to work everything according to His purpose.
Waiting does not mean inaction.
At first blush we might see James’ exhortation to patience as advocating a certain passivity. However, the farmer analogy indicates that this is not the case. If you have ever been around farms and farmers you know that there is hardly a more active profession. Depending on the season they are plowing, planting, watering, harvesting, storing, selling…etc. And if they are dairy farmers, then every day they are milking, feeding, pasturing, and so on. The idea that James might be saying “be passive like farmers” is absurd.
As Christians we are waiting patiently. We are waiting for God’s justice to be served on His enemies, we are waiting for Him to gather us up to Himself, we are waiting for Him to come and rule on earth, setting all things right. But like the farmer who is waiting for the rain, we are by no means idle. There are people to evangelize, Christians to disciple, churches to plant, families to raise, and societies for us to influence. The Christian who feels like there is nothing to do but wait needs to take a moment and look around him.
Waiting is believing God’s promises.
Every farmer believes God’s promises…even the atheist ones. Whether or not they are Christian, they act on the belief that “…while the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, and day and night shall not cease.” (Genesis 8:22) Regardless of creed, a farmer has to operate on the assumption that those verses are true.
In like manner, believers of all epochs have operated, and must continue to operate, on the assumption that God’s promises are true. And James has a very specific promise in mind here: the return of Christ. This is our ultimate hope, the promise that keeps us going. And just as surely as winter turns into spring, so Christ will return in all his glory to reign forever.
Just like the farmer, we work, we wait, and we trust.
Did you enjoy this post? Consider making a donation to our ministry in Brazil.
As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. This means that clicking on these Amazon links and making purchases is one way you can help our work.